Streaming music startup 8tracks is officially relaunching its iPhone application today, which offers a much-needed (and really well done) user interface revamp. For those who remember the earlier version of the app out last year, it will be as if you’re getting a brand-new application altogether. 8tracks 2.0, as the update is being called, introduces a number of new components, including fullscreen album artwork, the ability to find and invite friends, and a unique music discovery feature which lets you find music by both mood and genre.
While 8tracks has always offered a great way of finding new music, the mobile interface was somewhat lacking. Today, you finally have best of both worlds: beauty and brains.
For those unfamiliar, 8tracks is a streaming, not on-demand, music service. Its some 600,000 mixes are uploaded by a small portion (less than 1%) of the app’s users, known as DJs. There are no restrictions on the type of tracks these DJs can choose, beyond a couple of requirements that help keep 8tracks legal (they can’t be mashups or pre-release songs, for example). That means a mix can have anything from mainstream top 40 fare to rare indies – it’s whatever the DJ has on their hard drive.
Like Pandora, you can’t request individual songs, you can’t see what songs are included in a playlist and skip ahead to play your favorites, you can’t put tracks on repeat, you can’t play only those from your favorite artist, and you can’t download and save the tracks you like.
What’s New (And Awesome)
That being said, with the new interface, 8tracks is a joy to use. The best part is the ”Explore” section which lets you combine a mood (“chill,” “happy,” “motivation,” “studying,” etc.) with a music genre (“indie,” ‘pop,” 80s,” “rock,” etc.). The tags come from both how the DJs classified their tracks combined with data provided by Last.fm. The end result is a music mix that perfectly fits your mood and taste.
The other notable feature in today’s update is the dial-like navigation on the homescreen which lets you quickly access trending mixes, featured mixes, and your own recent listening history, among other things. It’s easy to use, and it’s also somewhat reminiscent of spinning the dial on transistor radios – a perfect metaphor, really, given the throwback style hinted at by 8tracks’ name.
Slow & Steady Growth…And Some Funding
8tracks, which first came onto the scene back in 2008, was briefly up against a fairly popular online service known as Muxtape – another site that allowed users to create their own mixes. But unlike Muxtape (now shuttered), 8tracks is legal.
8tracks founder and CEO David Porter explains that online radio services like his tend to grow more slowly compared with on-demand services like Spotify, but by the metrics which matter, he thinks 8tracks is doing well. “Over the last year, we’ve tripled in terms of hours of streaming,” he says, “and that’s probably the best indicator of our growth.” Today, 8tracks has 5 million monthly active users, one-third of which are on mobile. That’s the opposite of Pandora, which is two-thirds mobile and one-third web. But with this update, Porter expects the numbers to head more in Pandora’s direction.
The company also finally has the resources to make improvements, like it has done with this new mobile app, thanks to a $1.2 million round closed in October, which included investment from Andreessen Horowitz, Index Ventures, SoftTech VC and SPA. Other individual investors in 8tracks include English DJ Pete Tong, and 7digital founder Ben Drury, bringing 8tracks’ total raise to date to $1.5 million.
The mobile app is free, but is monetized with banner ads sold through Fuse, VICE and Pitchfork. For the first month, however, the iOS app will be ad-free, Porter says, so users can really get a feel for the new user experience. Afterwards, you can choose to purchase a subscription to 8tracks Plus to remove ads from the web and mobile apps for $25 for 6 months, if you choose.